Monday, September 22, 2014

Bookish Thoughts: Saffron Dreams by Shaila M. Abdullah

I decided to carry out the first task on my list when fall was about to lose its hue. ~ Opening of Saffron Dreams



Saffron Dreams by Shaila M. Abdullah
Modern History Press, 2009
Fiction; 248 pgs

I had not intended to read this book for A More Diverse Universe, but when I was browsing my shelves the other evening--just because, as I often do--I pulled Saffron Dreams out and decided the timing could not be more perfect, both for A More Diverse Universe, but also because of the recent anniversary of September 11, 2001, a day that needs little explanation at this time in our history.

Saffron Dreams is fiction, but it felt so real as I was reading it.  It is the story of Arissa Illahi, a Pakistani woman who was living in New York City at the time the World Trade Center was brought down by terrorists.  She was barely awake when her husband left for work that morning.  She had no idea she would never see him again.

Arissa and her husband were Muslim, having married in their home country and moving to the U.S. to start a new life. They were expecting their first child. The loss of her husband devastated Arissa, not surprisingly so.

Shaila Abdullah paints a picture with words that is extremely visceral. The grief and anger and loneliness left by the death of Arissa's husband made my heart ache. Arissa wanted to hold onto his memory as tightly as she could. It is through her grief and her reminiscing that we get to see how the couple met, how their marriage was arranged, and how they were living their life once married. They had their ups and downs, but they were so in love.

As if the loss of her husband was not enough of a burden to bear, Arissa learns the child she is carrying has birth defects, the extent of she will not know until the child is born.  It frightens her, but she knows it is something she must come to terms with.

Arissa is fortunate not to be alone through all of this, even in those moments she feels most alone. Her family surrounds her, working through their own grief and helping her through hers.  I felt the love and respect she felt for her parents-in-law.  Arissa and her mother, however, are estranged; yet another conflict in Arissa's life she must struggle with.

Saffron Dreams tells the story of how easily life's course can be changed by unexpected events.  It is Arissa's story of how she met with one such horrible event and other challenges that forced her to re-evaluate her life and decide what direction to go next. She has to come to terms with what's happened and what is,  It isn't easy for her and she makes mistakes, but she is a strong woman even in her weakest most doubtful moments. I admired this about her.

The author captured the cultural and ethnic tensions well during a time when they were quite high (and to some extent, still are). Arissa's decision to wear a veil in public marked her as the enemy in the eyes of some. The veil was a symbol of faith and tradition for Arissa. It was a part of her. She endured threats and nasty looks from people who unfairly judged her. It angered me to see her treated in such a way.

I was not entirely satisfied with one small aspect of the ending, admittedly.  I think though that was more my wish for a happier ending on that front than anything else when the reality of it is that the Abdullah's version is probably more true to life--and deserved.  I also felt that the flow of the novel changed a little too abruptly just past the mid-way point of the book.  It was a place in which a major change in the characters' lives had occurred, and so to some extent that could be expected.  It was as if there was a shift in the narrative voice even though the entire book is written in first person, in Arissa's voice. Those were minor things though.

Overall, I found Saffron Dreams to be an emotionally charged novel, one that will stay with me for a long while. I still remember where I was and what I was doing the morning of September 11, 2001, as I am sure many of you do.


To learn more about author Shaila M. Abdullah and her work, please visit the author's website


© 2014, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

23 comments:

  1. That's a lovely review, Wendy! I'm sure it's not an easy read reading about Arissa's journey but I think she's a brave woman to have go through and endured those difficult moments instead of giving up.
    Thanks for sharing this book with us, Wendy.

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    1. Melody - Thanks, Melody! It was a difficult read at times. It's such a sad situation she's in. I can't even imagine.

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  2. I read this several years ago and really liked it. A story of loss, grief, and the ability of the human spirit to recover. I liked the different perspective of 9/11, the characters, and the writing style.

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    1. Jenclair - I liked the different perspective on 9/11 as well. I admit I haven't read too many books about 9/11, although I have read a few.

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  3. It sounds like this is well worth reading even with the pacing issue.

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    1. Kathy - It is worth reading. I hope more people will give it a try!

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  4. A topical read that I should imagine will prove very moving. I really enjoy novels with strong female leads.

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    1. Tracy - I like strong female leads as well. This was a very moving book.

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  5. Sounds like a very worthwhile read with an important message and good characterization. I wish I had time for the Diversity Challenge, and applaud you for taking part in it.

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    1. Rita - I had initially only thought I could review a couple children's books--that's all I planned anyway. It worked out I was able to read more for it (through sacrifice and a patient husband). :-) I'm glad I did.

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  6. oh wow, Saffron Dreams does sound like an emotional one. Arissa's character sounds like she went through so much, especially with the prejudice she faced. Great review.

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    1. Naida - It is. It was hard to read with dry eyes. I really felt for Arissa and everything she had to go through. It was so much! My heart ached for her.

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  7. This sounds great! I think I have this book on my shelf; I need to get around to reading it soon.

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    1. Irene - I liked it. I hope you will too when you get to it!

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  8. This sounds like a really good story and the main character sounds very strong as well.

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    1. Mystica - Yes, I liked it and Arissa. She was such a great character.

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  9. You have me wanting to pull this one off the shelf after all of these years! I've either forgotten or never realized that it takes place during the aftermath of 9/11--some days I'm still shocked that this happened so many years ago. Doesn't it feel like just yesterday in some respects?

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    1. Trish - I hope you do find time to read it, Trish. I had forgotten it was about the aftermath of 9/11 also. It really does feel like it wasn't that long ago. :-(

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  10. I really loved Saffron Dreams. I agree it was such an emotionally-charged novel and it really made me look at the events surrounding 9/11 from the perspective of someone who had nothing to do with it, but was blamed anyway. I remember after 9/11 a bunch of Lebanese at my college were so harassed and bullied for "causing" 9/11 that they quit the school. One of them that was harassed, her father had actually died in the Twin Towers that day.

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    1. Becca - I felt so bad for Arissa. I remember hearing news stories about people being assaulted and harassed because of their faith or perceived ethnicity. People react without thinking or seeing beyond their anger. The judge and hate without thought. It's maddening.

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  11. I am SO THRILLED you read and reviewed a book for this event, Wendy! And thanks to your husband for making a sacrifice so it could happen :-) I'm glad you read a book that will stay with you. I read a couple of post 9/11 books this year - The Submission and The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Both brought the events very much to life for me again.

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    1. Aarti - My husband is so sweet. :-) I've been wanting to read The Reluctant Fundamentalist. I find it still difficult to read about 9/11. It's so fresh in my mind still.

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  12. This definitely sounds like a worthwhile read though not one I think is for me. I'm avoiding emotionally tough books for awhile! I do know someone who would really enjoy this one though.
    It's hard to believe September 11 happened 13 years ago. I can still close my eyes and relive that morning and the days that followed.

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